The bargain-hunter’s hybrid
THE GOOD
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Nice to drive
  • Comfortable interior
THE BAD
  • Dull steering feel
  • No dual-zone climate control
  • That’s about it
2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid Review

I drove the original Toyota Prius when it first came to Canada, back when bystanders ran over to check out this never-before-seen vehicle, and sometimes offer their explanations of how it worked. (My favourite: someone who thought it had neither a gas engine nor an electric motor; instead, it just “ran on electricity.”)

Today, hybrids are everyday vehicles, with many choices. The Prius is still the best-known, but I’d take the 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid. It drives better, doesn’t have as many quirky features, and it’s the better-looking of the two. My tester started at $24,990 and was equipped with a $2,000 Premium package, bringing it to $26,990 before freight and taxes.

Styling: 8/10

While the Prius banks on its quirky styling, the Corolla Hybrid looks like a regular Corolla with hybrid badges. The gaping lower grille is a bit much, but all that black mesh is a little less noticeable on a dark-coloured car, such as my tester and its coat of “Blueprint” – one of six available colours, all offered at no extra charge.

The Hybrid includes LED lighting front and rear. Some conventional Corolla trims can go up to 18-inch wheels, but the Hybrid rides on 15-inch alloy rims, so you’ll pay less for your winter tires.

Safety: 9.5/10

The 2021 Corolla Hybrid carries over from the all-new 2020 model, and that got the highest five-star rating from the United States National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), as well as a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

New this year, blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert becomes standard equipment. That’s on top of the standard lane-departure assist, automatic high-beam headlights, full-speed adaptive cruise control, and emergency front braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, along with the rearview camera that’s mandatory on all new vehicles.

Practicality: 8/10

You have to buy the vehicle that satisfies your needs and makes you happy, but before you automatically head over to a sport utility, take the time to test drive a sedan.

The Corolla Hybrid is as roomy inside as many compact crossovers; its passenger volume is actually slightly more than that of the Toyota C-HR. The trunk is huge for the car’s footprint, and visibility is good all around.

User Friendliness: 9/10

If you’ve read any of my other reviews, you’ll know how much I value simplicity. Distraction can be deadly, and you shouldn’t be paging through computer screens to access basic functions.

The Corolla Hybrid has dials for cabin temperature and fan speed; a simple infotainment system with large icons, and with hard buttons to bring up the menus; and buttons for the two-stage heated seats, and for the heated steering wheel. Even the power mirror switch is a dial, which is easier than the small buttons that many vehicles contain.

Features: 8/10

Last year’s model included Apple CarPlay, and for 2021, Android Auto has been added. Both are standard equipment.

The Corolla Hybrid comes in a single trim line that’s pretty much on par with the regular Corolla LE trim. It includes such items as an eight-inch touchscreen, heated front seats, 60/40-split folding rear seats, variable intermittent wipers, heated mirrors, LED head- and taillights, the aforementioned safety systems, and automatic climate control, but it’s single-zone instead of dual. My tester’s $2,000 Premium pack added wireless charging, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated rear seats, leather-look upholstery, a heated steering wheel, and ambient interior lighting.

Power: 8/10

The Corolla Hybrid carries a 1.8L four-cylinder engine mated to a 53-kW electric motor, and with a lithium-ion battery pack. On its own, the engine makes 95 hp and 105 lb-ft of torque, but when combined with the electric motor you get a combined maximum 121 hp.

The numbers may not sound impressive, but they’re more than enough in this small vehicle, with enough acceleration to get you off the line and safely pass on the highway. Power goes to the front wheels through an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) that also does its job very well. The hybrid system switches seamlessly and automatically between gas and electricity – or a combination of the two – depending on power demand.

Comfort: 8.5/10

The Corolla’s seats are at the upper level of mainstream-compact comfort, with good support and sculpturing, so you feel like you’re sitting in them rather than on top of them, as can happen with flatter-cushioned chairs.

Second-row legroom isn’t spectacular, but it’s decent for the segment, and a couple of taller adult passengers I put back there were fine with it, provided the front seats weren’t pushed all the way back. The roof has a stylish swoop to it, but headroom is good all the way back.

Driving Feel: 8/10

The car responds nicely to steering input, and it takes corners and curves smoothly and confidently. There’s almost no steering feel, but that’s more of an issue for enthusiasts, rather than the majority of everyday commuters for whom the Corolla Hybrid is intended.

I like that it has a regular gear selector rather than the strange little push–pull nubbin on the Prius. The battery charges through regenerative braking – you can’t plug the Corolla in – and the B (for brake) setting on the shifter increases the rate of regeneration, and slows the car down more aggressively when coasting.

There’s a button for EV mode, but it’s rather pointless. It keeps the car on electricity at low speeds and light throttle – but the system will do that automatically anyway, and if you go too fast or accelerate too hard, the engine starts up and EV mode is cancelled.

Fuel Economy: 9.5/10

The Corolla Hybrid is rated at 4.4 L/100 km in the city, 4.5 on the highway, and 4.5 L/100 km combined. If that sounds backwards, hybrids get better mileage in the city than on the highway because you have more opportunity to use the battery at city speeds.

In my week with it, I averaged a very respectable 4.9 L/100 km. Its published combined rate is the same as the Prius, and in the ballpark with most of its compact hybrid competition. The Hyundai Ioniq undercuts it at 4.2 L/100 km, while the Kia Niro is rated at 4.8 L/100 km, and the Honda Insight is 4.9 L/100 km. You’re going to do well at the pumps in any of these.

Value: 9/10

At $24,990, the Corolla Hybrid sits mid-pack in the Corolla lineup, which ranges from $19,150 to $28,750. The Corolla Hybrid seems even more of a bargain compared to the Prius, which starts at $28,650. Among compact competitors, the Hyundai Ioniq is $25,399; the Kia Niro is $26,845; and the Honda Insight is $28,490.

Toyota recently upped the warranty on the hybrid battery, and it’s now covered for 10 years or 240,000 km. Hybrid-related components are covered for eight years or 160,000 km.

The Verdict

Overall, I was very impressed by this little gas-electric number. It’s a pleasure to drive, comes well-styled and comfortable, and you get a lot for its reasonable price. Add it all up, and the Corolla Hybrid could very well be the best hybrid deal out there right now.

The bargain-hunter’s hybrid 9/29/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 1.8L   Model Tested 2021 Toyota Corolla Hybrid with Premium Package
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $24,990
Peak Horsepower 121 hp (net)   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque N/A   Destination Fee $1,670
Fuel Economy 4.4 / 4.5 / 4.5 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $28,760
Cargo Space 371 L  
Optional Equipment
$2,000 – Premium Package, $2,000